As far as films go, Nanook of the North is snake oil. The beginning describes a narrative of an intrepid film maker who, despite the odds, makes a documentary about an fearless Inuit hunter called Nanook and his family.
But it’s bullshit. Pretty much all of it is staged. I know that when you go to film a group like this there is no chance of being candid, especially with the filming equipment that was available back in 1922.
However, the group Flaherty was filming was already coming under the ‘white influence’. They were already starting to wear clothing and use weapons that were not traditional before the camera was pointed at them. Instead of going with this, and making a documentary what could show how the world’s have collided and this is how the Inuk people have started to adapt, we get something which is basically a tableau of stereotyped ‘Eskimo’ behaviour.
One such sequence that did not sit well with me was a scene where the ‘white man’ tries to explain a gramophone. This felt so staged, something made worse when ‘Nanook’ (not his real name) sticks the record in his mouth.
Thing is, I know I am looking at this through the eyes of a walrus-loving man living in 2015. This was a ground-breaking piece of cinema… but couldn’t it have been as ground-breaking without having to create such a narrative that is, in the end, insulting to the filmed subjects. Just a thought.